Europe golfer Alex Noren is congratulated by teammates on the 18th green during the Ryder Cup Sunday singles matches at Le Golf National.

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Liguori: Europeans Played Like They Wanted Ryder Cup More Than USA Did

Ann Liguori
October 01, 2018 - 10:28 am
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SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France  -- The silence that overtook the American side of the driving range when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka started hitting balls before Sunday’s singles matches at the Ryder Cup was a strong reminder of the enormous task at hand.

It was understandable why the mood was so somber. The U.S. team had its work cut out for it, down 10-6 against the Europeans heading into the final session. Europe needed only 4½ points to reach the required 14½ points to regain the Cup. The Americans had to win eight of the 12 matches, needing 14 points to retain the Cup they fought so hard to wrest from the European team in 2016 at Hazeltine.

The Americans would have to mount a formidable comeback, like they did in 1999 in the "Battle of Brookline," when down by the same margin, they rallied back to beat the Europeans. The Europeans returned the favor in 2012 at Medinah, when they rallied back from the same 10-6 deficit to stun the Americans.

Woods, Thomas and Koepka were practicing on the left side of the range Sunday, and Rory McIlroy, first one out on the range, was practicing to the far right. It was about 45 minutes before the start of the first singles match between Thomas and McIlroy. On the right side, where McIlroy was, the fans lined up 10 rows deep, chanting, "RO-RY! RO-RY" and applauding politely. Graeme McDowell, one of the assistant captains on the European side, was chatting and smiling with McIlroy.

On the left side, where the American players were warming up, it was eerily quiet. All you could hear was the sound of the players hitting their balls.   

Woods looked stoic. He didn’t smile or talk with anyone on the range. Thomas and Mickelson, like Tiger, focused on hitting balls. David Duval, one of the vice captains for the U.S., walked onto the range and watched, not saying a word to anyone. U.S. captain Jim Furyk made his way over to Woods, giving him a quick pat on the shoulder. Vice captain Davis Love wished Woods luck.

After winning only one of four matches in the opening fourball session, Europe swept the afternoon foursome session Friday, 4-0. Then on Saturday morning, the Europeans took three of the four matches in the fourball session and two of the four matches in the Saturday afternoon foursomes session, building the 10-6 lead.

On Sunday, the Europeans got off to a good start, but the Americans started putting red numbers up on the board, giving the European fans among the 50,000-plus at Le Golf National a bit of a scare for about an hour or so. But then the Europeans did what they had been doing throughout the weekend competition -- they played better golf.

The Americans won 3½ of the first four points of the day.

Thomas put the first point on the board, beating McIlroy, 1-up. Overall score: Europe 10, USA, 7.

Koepka halved his match with Paul Casey. Europe 10½, USA 7½.

Webb Simpson then beat Justin Rose, 3 & 2. Europe 10½, USA 8½.

Ryder Cup rookie Tony Finau looked very impressive in his 6 & 4 win against Tommy Fleetwood, who had won all four partner matches with Francesco Molinari. Europe 10½, USA 9 ½.

But Ryder Cup rookie Thorbjorn Olesen was able to dominate Jordan Spieth 5 & 4. Europe 11½, USA, 9½.

Another Ryder Cup rookie Jon Rahm beat Woods 2 & 1. 12½-9½. Tiger was 0-4 in this Ryder Cup.

Ian Poulter beat Dustin Johnson, 2-up. 13½ - 9½.

And how appropriate that Francesco Molinari, with a perfect 5-0 record in this Ryder Cup, clinched it for the Europeans, beating Phil Mickelson 4 & 2. Europe 14½, USA 9½.

Sergio Garcia beat Rickie Fowler 2 & 1 and became the most successful Ryder Cup player of all time, earning 25½ points overall in his Ryder Cup career.

Hendrick Stenson topped Bubba Watson, 5 & 4.

Patrick Reed ended up beating Tyrrell Hatton, 3 & 2.

And Alex Noren finished off Europe’s dominating win by draining a 40-footer for birdie to beat Bryson DeChambeau, 1-up.

Final score: Europe 17½, USA 10½

Overall, here are the reasons why I feel the Europeans won:

Quite simply, they played much better. They were more accurate off the tee. Their iron play was sharper, and they made more putts. The Europeans are also more familiar with the course, Le Golf National, which hosts the French Open every year. The course is so difficult and tricky. The players who have played it several times have an advantage.

The Europeans were led by Molinari and Fleetwood, dubbed "Mollywood," becoming the only European combo in Ryder Cup history to win all four of its team matches. The dynamic duo went on a rampage, beating Woods and Patrick Reed 3 & 1 in Friday’s morning fourball session, crushing Thomas and Spieth 5 & 4 in Friday afternoon’s foursomes session, beating Woods and Reed again 4 & 3 in Saturday morning’s fourball session, and dominating Woods and DeChambeau 5 & 4 in Saturday afternoon’s foursomes session.

The Europeans played like they wanted it more. The Ryder Cup seems to mean more to the Europeans and their fans than it does to Americans. Sure, the Americans want to win, but it doesn’t seem like an obsession for them like it is for the European players and fans. And the European players enjoy more camaraderie with each other. They’re a tighter-knit group. They act more like a team. Golf is more of an individual sport, but the Europeans come together better as a team. They also play more match-play and alternate-shot formats than the Americans do.

The Americans were exhausted. Playing four to five straight weeks to wrap up the PGA Tour season and the FedEx Cup playoffs, like most of them do, and then immediately flying to Europe for Ryder Cup week -- with a six-hour time difference -- is too much.

Woods looked completely fatigued. Perhaps winning the Tour Championship last week and playing so many consecutive weeks was too overwhelming for the 42-year-old. He didn’t contribute a point for the first time in eight Ryder Cups. He hardly smiled the entire week.

Mickelson, playing in his 12th Ryder Cup, lost the two matches he played in. Lefty now holds the record for most Ryder Cup losses at 22. He was a questionable captain’s pick coming into this Ryder Cup having played so poorly.

The performances of Furyk’s picks were brutal with the exception of Finau, who was a shining light. But Woods was 0-4, while Mickelson and DeChambeau were each 0-2.

European captain Thomas Bjorn’s picks played well. Garcia went 3-1, Henrik Stenson won all three, Casey was 1-1-1, and Poulter went 2-2.

Thomas, Spieth and Simpson were positives for the U.S. team. Spieth won three of the team matches with Thomas but is now 0-6 in singles matches. 

More weight, I feel, should be given on using the captain's picks on the players who are peaking leading into the Ryder Cup, not on players such as Mickelson, who weren't playing well but was picked because he's played in 11 Ryder Cups previously. Woods didn't know he was going to win the Tour Championship. The week and all his playing time zapped his energy, but he would have been better serving as a vice captain than playing. Youth and positive energy is key.

It's time for the Americans to regroup, get some rest and build some enthusiasm for the 2020 Ryder Cup in Whistling Straits, Wisconsin.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.​